Chapter 1: Barters and Bargains

Matthew did great at the interview. They loved his new tie. His suit (the best he could find at the thrift shop) had come out of the dry cleaner’s beautiful and perfectly mended. He had no problem answering the tech questions. He suspected the cute blonde who interviewed him was even flirting with him! Everything had been fine until he found out that he would need a dermal PDA. The guy from HR had assumed that he had the resources to get the latest model. It turned out the even clocking in would require him to be registered as in the office via his PDA.

“Make sure you get one with a good clock speed and plenty of expandability in case you need to upgrade.” said Richard from HR.

Now, he was scrounging in the bargain shops for second hand PDA’s. Matthew just hoped that he could make it to his first payday with whatever half functional crap he could find for a lousy $100.

Bob’s discount was a new place to him. It was the only store he had not tried in this area and the shadows were getting long. It was already Friday, and the new job started on Monday. It took up a dingy, corner storefront. The dirty windows cracked in only a few places by the stray bullets of some random street shooting last month. It would likely be vacant in another month. That was the way it worked in this corner of the city. Most of the goods were either stolen or defective and second merchandise, some of it scavenged from warehouse and factory dumpsters. Matthew had, at last, come to this final stop in his search. The closest he had found so far had been a substandard unit that was $120. He had almost parted with the extra cash until he realized the damned thing had asyncronous cache errors that caused the registers to overflow unpredictably when speculative execution order was needed in parallel processing tasks exceeded the usage levels of the average highschool coding class. In short, it would have crashed on the simplest tasks in his new job and that would have been the end of that job.No, he needed a reliable implant.

The autocannons whined as their servos brought the multibarreled agents of destruction to track on Matthew. They looked well worn, but clean. He had been in these questionable shops all day. The grimy shelves of the store were stacked with the leavings of hundreds of burglaries and stolen shipments meant for far more legitimate and tasteful establishments.

As Matthew inspected the scratched shell of a medium range gaming system, adorned as it was with a single frayed and scuffed pink bunny sticker, the proprietor of the shop cleared his throat from behind a row of plexiglass display cases in the back of the cluttered store. “Can I help you find something?”

Matthew looked up to see an older gray haired man. He was pot bellied and sporting a spectacular amount of dirty, gray beard over a worn and faded concert T-shirt, and faded red suspenders that supported a pair of spotless khakis. The name of the band was faded beyond recognition under it’s obscuring screen of facial hair. Even an idiot would not have missed the military grade machine pistol harnessed to the man’s left side for an easy cross draw and a similarly impressive tazer on the right.

“What do you have in the way of dermally implanted PDA chips?”

“I have a few series 3 and 4 chips. I also have some that just came in that need to be sorted and valued.”

“I need at least a series 6 for the job I’m starting. Can we work out a deal? I could sort and prep the box of chips for you for a discount on a series 6. I can show you my credentials. I’m a qualified tech. “

“Sort this pile and you can take your pick from the box. I don’t know this stuff and I would have had to pay someone to get them ready for sales. If you mess it up, I’ll take the cash you have and kick your ass kid.”

Putting his wallet on the counter and pulled out his freshly minted certification card, Matthew nodded acceptance of the deal. They held direct eye contact for a moment as if they could gaze into eachother and determine the length that they could each could trust the other to. The older man put his hand out to him and they shook hands on the deal.

“Nice to meet you Bob!”

“Not my name kid. I’m Lou. Bob was the last owner. I’m just too cheap to change the branding…”

“I’m Matthew. Here are my credentials.” he replied as he slid the card with his education records to the older man. Lou slipped the card into a reader.

“It says here you graduated a month ago. How come you’re broke?”

“It’s been rough getting a gig. I need the series 6 to be able to do my work at the job I just got. I start Monday.”

“You had better get started on those chips then. The testing will take a while. This is Thursday. No Friday night plans?”

“No, just getting set up for this gig.”

“ Come in fresh and early tomorrow and we’ll finish up by early afternoon.”

“I’ll be here at 8:00 am sharp!”

Lou’s reply was a curt nod.

——===+++===——

The next morning, Matthew showed up at 7:55 am. Lou was waiting in the door with the gates down. “Coffee just finished. Help yourself. It’s dark and nasty, but it wakes you up.”

Stepping into the darkened shop, Matthew followed the acrid scent of slightly scorched coffee.

The box of chips was set out on a worn  static free work mat. Stains from heat and chemical discharges leaving a crusty pattern of wear and abuse on the work surface.

“Help yourself to coffee kid.” was Lou’s only comment as he passed with a pink, flowered mug full of the darkly steaming liquid.

“Thanks!” Matthew walked over and found the styrofoam cups. Coffee in hand, he walked over to the workbench area in back, where Lou had placed the box of chips on a static free mat.

Soon Matthew was caught up in testing the chips. Some had minor interface damage and some needed firmware patches. Before he knew it, his half finished cup of coffee was cold and bitter. Several of the chips were series 5 and 6. He soon had them all sorted into neat piles. There had even been a series 7 in the pile, but he was more interested in the one chip that was marked with the regular series 6 marking and an additional X. A little research on line told him this marking was`the expected marking for the next gen chip in development that was supposed to be compatible with series 6, but have exponential speed advantages.

Some of the chips did not pass muster. Matthew marked the ones that could be used as lower powered chips. Those could go in a bargain bin. There were a total of 12 series 5 chips and 6 series 6 chips with no performance issues. The series 7 ended up being fully functional. The series 6X passed all tests with flying colors and did so with exemplary speed. There was not even the expected level of heat generated, even under heavy load.

Thinking to himself, Matthew had to debate internally if he was brave enough to try the prototype, or should he play it safe and take the series 7. At the end of the day, he took the risk. He just could not turn down the allure of the speedy little specimen.

Just then, Lou came back from the other side of the room, where he had been reconditioning a few game systems and power tools. “How are we doing Matthew? Anything usable?”

Matthew briefly explained what he had discovered and what was in each pile. Lou grabbed the deffectives right away and dumped them into a materials recovery bin. Those would be sent out for a service to strip any valuable substances from them for cash.

“Have you picked your prize?”

“Yes, I have! I’ll take the 6X chip. It should do quite nicely.”

“You make a good deal kid. Let me know if you need a little side work after you start your gig. I could use a guy with your skills.”

“Thanks Lou. I may just do that once I settle into that gig.”

Matthew placed the chip on his skin and ran a finger around the edge. He watched as the edge of the chip adhered to his skin firmly and began powering up. His own bioelectric field and body heat would power the chip and any basic periferals he acquired. The green light in the center and the soft melodic chime indicated a safe bootup.

“Take care kid. I guess I’ll see you when I see you. You have my number if you need to reach me.”

Slightly distracted by his new acquisition, Matthew nodded and walked out of the store into the city twilight.

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